A Drink On The Wild Side, Mills Brewing.
A Drink On The Wild Side
“Fundamentally, it just feels right to be encouraging wild fermentation in a place where we are surrounded by nature,”- Gen Mills
Some try to keep nature at bay, to control, to dominate it. Jonny and Gen Mills take a rather different approach, from their small brewery in-between Berkeley and Ham, they brew and blend naturally fermented beers with minimal modern intervention. Relying on fully spontaneous fermentation or utilising their ‘house’ yeast culture, the influence of nature runs through each and every brew, from start to finish. This style of brewing can be more reminiscent of wild-fermented (read: natural) wine and cider, with all of the wonderful and sometimes perplexing array of flavours this can produce. As a result the Mills’ uncanny ability to select which brews to blend or to leave alone is a truly artisanal skill.
I can still remember my first glass of the Mills’ beer all the way back in December of 2017, it was their recent release of Saison Lees, so Adam, my colleague at the time, and I decided to crack open a bottle of what was fast becoming one of the most sought after breweries in the UK, as we wanted to see what all the fuss was about. The beer was fermented on ex-cider lees in an old cider barrel from Tom Oliver (I assume), notes of drying hay, cheese curds and touch of toffee apple leapt from the glass, and a fine, lively, carbonation danced across the tongue and finishing with an indefinable umami character. Upon the first sip, I was instantly transported to the body of a seventeen year old me sat on my auntie’s terrace near Figeac. The heat of the day was starting to fade and I was handed a small glass of Cantillon Geuze, which upon drinking, confused, enticed and utterly captivated my senses. It was light and elegant, subtly tart, floral, vinous, dry and indefinably rustic, and exuded an unprepossessing elegance. I was in love. It would be another nine years before I had the pleasure of trying that first beer from Mills, but it was worth the wait!
Sorry to harp on with such starry eyed platitudes, but I utterly adore the beer that Mills make. It’s our sense memories that are so captivating, they enable us to tease threads between time and place, people and space. To me this is what Mills, and producers like them are so magical for doing, they create things that encourage you to join them on a journey of discovery, to places, flavours and experiences in a way that enraptures the drinker. The younger me instinctively knew that this drink spoke of its origins and creators, it had what I would later learn the French call ‘terroir’. Which is the epitome of what a great food and drink experience is able to do, it transcends the sum of its parts and elevates the experience to new heights of sensory (mis)understanding. Enjoy the beer, but don’t think about it too hard…or do!
At Stroud Wine Company we currently have limited stock of Mills’ recent release ‘Twig’ (£17.50), which is a blend of three year old brews, produced between January and April of 2020, that underwent spontaneous fermentation in ex-white Burgundy barrels, and dry hopped with undried “Low Carbon” hops from Brook House Farm. The resulting beer has delicate notes of orange marmalade and crab apple, with an earthy spice and a dry moderately tannic finish, a perfect pairing with a ripe and rich cheese such as Baron Bigod or even Reblochon.
We also currently have Mills and Tom Oliver’s newest collaborative effort in the form of ‘Thirteenth Fire’ (£18.00), which is a graf style, which has in various forms been made for a few thousand years! Using a base beer similar to a Belgian Golden Strong Ale fermented in a first-use Irish Whiskey barrel for 7 months, and co-fermented with traditional cider apple juice made from Michelin, with small amounts of Sheep’s Nose and Foxwhelp. The resulting beverage is a classic Mills/Oliver’s experience with a noticeable richness from the wort balanced by a sharp bittersweet acidity, and a touch of sweetness from the whiskey barrel to round off the finish. Truly a nod from both producers desire to take drinkers on new and exciting journeys. An intriguing celebratory drink that is hard to pin down.
Christy Davidson-Stearn, August ’23